The Parco Spina Verde is a line of hills formed from glacial deposits that runs initially north to south along the western edge of Como before extending westwards to form the border with Switzerland. As with Brunate, the change of altitude provides a quick and decisive change from town to countryside and marvelous views out over the city centre, the lake and the Pianura Padana.
With this walk we only touch on a corner of the park. Their website, although unavailable in English, contains maps of the footpaths that crisscross the park with detailed information of the many aspects of interest to be found there. Our route takes us close to some of the Bronze Age settlements mentioned in our article ‘Up in the Hills – Prehistoric Como’ but there is a lot more to discover if you have time.
Start off by heading out to the Basilica of Sant’ Abbondio beyond the western edge of the old town close to the large cemetery. Sant’ Abbondio is Como’s patron saint and one of its early archbishops. The Basilica is an important Romanesque structure made all the more interesting by the series of frescoes covering the entire area of the apse. The church is normally open to visitors during the day so well worth looking in before heading out on the narrow road opposite its main entrance that leads uphill underneath the railway line. If open, do also look into the cloistered courtyard to the side of the church. It now forms part of the University dell’ Insubria but is also sometimes used as a venue for open-air concerts during the summer.
Follow the small tunnel under the railway line and then turn to your right as shown in the photo above. Now keep to the tarmac road taking the lefthand fork going uphill climbing up from the road running alongside the railway.
The road goes through some twists and turns and changes from tarmac to gravel but you will soon come across one of the first of the many direction signs in the park. The park is particularly well signposted by local standards and we are going to be following the directions for Path (Sentiero) no. 4 in the direction of Monte Caprino.
Paths 3 and 4 start off at the same point shown in the photo as they verge off from the gravel road. Path 3 is considerably steeper and longer than 4 and so is not covered here but, for those up to the challenge, it does lead to a panoramic point with a great view over the lake and ends up by the Saint Eutichio cross that can be seen illuminated at night from the centre of town.
Path 4 breaks off to the left to start the climb uphill after about 5 minutes walking on the level. The turning is signposted but can be easily missed so look out for the wooden steps as shown in the photo below.
Now the cardio-vascular part of the walk starts in earnest as you climb steadily uphill but on a well-maintained path that offers many backward-looking glimpses through the trees onto the city below.
The path follows a gorge and eventually comes out at the junction with a gravel path that runs just below the crest of the hills. There is a map of the park on show here as well as a further signpost pointing you back down the path we just climbed or sharp right up to the Saint Eutichio cross which would have been our destination if taking Path 3. If you want to keep the walk relatively short, turn left onto the gravel road. Turn right though if you want to take a look at the Bronze Age settlement and/or get something to eat or drink at the Baita Pianvalle. Neither attraction is too far away. For more information about the Bronze Age settlement look at our article entitled ‘Up in the Hills – Prehistoric Como‘.
The Baita Pianvalle is in a great location with an extensive outdoor area and views down over the Pianura Padana. You can just have something to drink here or eat if you wish. They sometimes do massive Florentine steaks grilled on the outdoor barbecue but otherwise they keep to a rigorous mountain menu with polenta at its heart even in the height of summer. Outside of the baita, there is a reconstruction of a Bronze Age dwelling.
Assuming we don’t make the detour to Pianvalle, after turning left onto the gravel road, we just keep going straight along this path following directions for Respau. Respau is another baita and hostel often used for educational purposes. I have eaten there once and it was very good. It also has picked up a number of positive reviews. Food is traditional, home made and modestly priced. It’s in a lovely setting looking out towards the Baradello Tower – one of Federico Barbarossa’s defences to protect Como from their enemies at the time, the Milanese.
Keep on the main path as it descends with the Cascina Respau on your left. The path now turns into a cobbled road although inaccessible to most cars, with a cement-rendered brick wall on your right. As you come to the area known as the Garden of Remembrance you will see a concreted path leading downhill on your left. Take this for the most direct route downhill. Ignore it if you want to carry on to another potential diversion – the Baradello Tower. This road finally comes out at Piazza Camerlata.
The path leads down following the track of a mountain stream but then flattens out to join a tarmacked stretch that ends suddenly. Continue by taking the footpath that leads off to the left of the tarmac. This short stretch of path leads you on to the road climbing to the Baradello Tower.
Turn left downhill to head back into the centre of Como. You will come out by the church of San Rocco which is the diocese at the forefront in offering assistance to migrants. San Rocco is in one of the poorest of Como’s inner districts.
With all the potential diversions, it is a bit difficult to put an accurate timing for this walk but if you do not allow yourself to be distracted, allow over 2 hours to complete the circuit. Dining at Cascina Respau may well double your journey but I can assure you it would be time well spent.
Distance: 5 km
Time: 1.45 hrs
Climb: 230 m
Descent: 230 m
Difficulty: Intermediate, sure-footedness required